The above is a song that may get a run as teams make road trips up to the country for NPLV fixtures this year. Hopefully no one will make a wrong turn and get lost in a backwater where "Dueling Banjos" is the number one tune in town.
In a previous blog I referred to the non-metropolitan Melbourne clubs as "country bumpkin clubs" which is a little disrespectful. Then again, respect is something that should be earned, which is hard to have for clubs being placed in higher leagues at the expense of ones that have earned their place on merit. That's an issue for another blog however, as this time I will be looking at the history of country teams in Melbourne/Victorian competitions.
The first non-metropolitan side to make an impression on Melbourne football was Submarine Depot in the early 1920's. Also known as Osbourne House, the Geelong-based sailors won all their games in the debut in the top flight of 1920. Unfortunately they pulled out of the League after just four games, finishing fourth in Section B. The following year they competed in the Dockerty Cup, where they reached the Final. After a 1-1 draw, they were beaten 2-0 in a replay by Northumberland and Durham United.
In 1924 Naval Depot, based at Crib Point, won the Second Division and made it a double by taking out the Dockerty Cup with a 1-0 defeat of Footscray Thistle in the Final. Another Cup win would follow before 1928 saw them take the District League Championship and Dockerty Cup double.
Wonthaggi Magpies, beaten by Naval Depot on the Cup Final of 1928, were the next country team to make a mark. In an epic series in 1931 they claimed the Dockerty Cup by finally defeating Brunswick 1-0 in a Second Replay.
Following World War II the first country team to join the League competition was Yallourn, who finished 8th in Section B of the First Division of 1947. Struggling at the foot of the First Division, they were relegated in 1949. Bouncing back as Runner's-Up in the Second Division the following season, they continued their momentum by storming to the First Division Championship in 1951.
In 1952 Yallourn finished 5th in the First Division. International Harvesters (Based in Geelong) and Flinders Naval Depot were competing in the Second Division. Another relegation and promotion followed before Yallourn departed the top flight for good at the end of 1955.
With new migrant clubs beginning to dominate the football landscape, leading to the formation of the State League in 1958 country clubs struggled to reach the highest level. Geelong had a top flight stint in 1959. In the lower reaches, Seymour and Bendigo United competed in the Provisional League in that year, with Seymour rising to Division Two North after finishing 3rd. Norlane Olympia competed in that division until being relegated in 1963 in a season in which Geelong Scottish took 3rd place.
As those clubs faded out of the scene, Yallourn bounced back by taking out the Fourth Division and then Third Division in 1967 and 1968. Their successors as Fourth Division Champions were Ballarat. Yallourn were unable to breakthrough beyond the Second Division this time, and in the mid-1970's the next big thing from the Latrobe Valley was just starting to make it's mark as Morwell Falcons won the Provisional League in consecutive years in the time before automatic promotion to the Metropolitan League.
Despite only finishing Runner's-Up to Geelong in the Provisional League of 1976, the Falcons were finally accepted into the Fourth Division and another Runner's-Up finish saw them win promotion instantly. Reaching the Second Division, it was expansion of the Leagues rather than promotion which took them to the top flight for 1982, when they finished in 4th place. At that time Corio and Yallourn were in the Third Division, with North Geelong, Geelong and Hamlyn Rangers giving the Fourth Division a strong Sleepy Hollow-flavour. Ballarat, Kyneton and Shepparton City were all competing in the Provisional League which now had three Divisions.
Morwell Falcons became State Champions in 1984, backing it up by being Runner's-Up the following season. Another State League title was claimed in 1989. When the new Victorian Premier League first adopted a Grand Final to determine it's Championship, it was North Geelong who took out the first showpiece at Middle Park with an extra-time defeat of Brunswick United Juventus the season after being promoted as Champions of the State League First Division.
Morwell Falcons, who had finished 8th that season, were accepted into the National Soccer League that year. As an NSL club, they would win the Dockerty Cup in 1994, before changing their name to Gippsland Falcons and then Eastern Pride before folding in 2001. When North Geelong were relegated from the VPL in 1997, it would be the end of a provincial presence in the top flight until the NPL Victoria came into existence this year.